US could defend Turkey from Syrian strikes by Saturday
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Most of the U.S. contingent deploying to help defend Turkey from any spillover of Syria’s civil war is already on the ground and could be operational as early as Saturday, American military officials said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, aircraft problems have kept a Germany-based command-and-control element of some 30 soldiers from the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command grounded in Europe, said Maj. Joel Johnson, operations officer for the 10th AAMDC. The element, based at Rhine Ordnance Barracks adjacent to Ramstein Air Base, will serve as an intermediary between American Patriot missile batteries and NATO commanders.
The bulk of the U.S. force is coming from the Army’s 3rd Battalion, 2nd Air Defense Artillery, which began streaming into Turkey late Friday night, “and it’s been a pretty constant flow since then,” Air Force 1st Lt. David Liapis, a spokesman for the Air Force’s 39th Air Base Wing at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, said Tuesday. “I would say the bulk of the personnel and equipment are already here.”
An advance team of soldiers from U.S. Army Europe arrived at Incirlik Thursday to begin scouting around the Turkish city of Gaziantep, where the batteries will set up to help protect Turkey from possible missiles fired from Syria. Gaziantep is less than 80 miles from the embattled city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.
Germany and the Netherlands are each sending two Patriot batteries as well and will deploy to other parts of the Turkish-Syrian border. Their systems shipped out early Tuesday from the Dutch port city of Eindhoven and are expected in Turkey by Jan. 21, Germany’s Federal Ministry of Defense announced Tuesday in a statement.
“The German contingent includes more than 400 soldiers and consists basically of two Patriot fire units of the Air Force,” the German statement said. “A fire unit comprises up to eight launchers with eight missiles in the initial loading, a fire control station and a multi-function radar.”
Turkey’s request for NATO air defense support came after cross-border shelling killed several Turkish civilians in October. In all, NATO allies are sending six batteries and about 1,200 troops for the mission, dubbed Active Fence.
Despite two days of delays for the 10th AAMDC team, Johnson said the American Patriot batteries could be operational by Saturday. “However, that is subject to further review by NATO,” he said. “We will be able to assume that mission if we need to based on NATO’s guidance.”
The entire NATO system isn’t expected to be fully operational until early February, Johnson said.